Peace and prosperity. This simple three word theorem is the dream of every incumbent president running for re-election, and of every candidate running as the incumbent’s natural successor. Readers need not believe me. You might have asked Herbert Hoover in 1928, Dwight Eisenhower in 1956, or George H.W. Bush in 1988. Conversely, incumbent presidents or their potential successors regard economic troubles as a bad luck charm or a curse to be avoided at all costs. Here, again, you need not take the author’s word for it, but let history be your guide. You might have asked Herbert Hoover in 1932, Jimmy Carter in 1980, or John McCain in 2008 to certify this truth. That is why an Associated Press story that appeared last week is very intriguing.
The story in question was titled, “Middle Class Declines Nationally,” and was written by Christopher Rugaber. The author pulled no punches in the opening paragraph, claiming that the middle class is hollowing out in many American cities. He used the statistics employed in a report released last week in a study conducted by the Pew Research Center. The gist of the study holds that the widening wealth gap is moving some up to the higher income group, but many more are falling into the lower income group, with fewer in the middle, ergo in the middle class. This is not a diatribe of class hatred of the Bernie Sanders-type; it is a dispassionate study of numbers and statistics proving its point.
The study argues that in 25% of the nation’s major metropolitan areas, middle class adults no longer make up a majority of the adult population. Middle class adults now make up less than half the population of cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Houston, Detroit and St. Louis. Between 2000 and 2014 the middle class shrank in over 90% of American cities. Nationally, the proportion of middle class adults shrank to 51% in 2014 from 56% in 2000. Upper income adults now make up 20% of the population (up from 18%), while the lower income share rose to 29% from 27%.
Some might question the methodology of the study. The Pew Research Group defines the middle class as households with incomes ranging from $41,000-$125,000 for a family of three, and adjusted upwards for a larger family size. Readers might quibble over why $41,000 is middle class, but a thousand dollars per year less than this magic number would categorize someone as a member of the lower income group. Likewise, would $126,000 per year really qualify a family of three as “upper income”? The study did not control for the differing cost of living in various areas, with the Northeast and Pacific Coast being much more costly than the South and the Midwest. By the same token the study did not note the fact that certain items like high housing costs, often the result of misguided policies like rent control and zoning, cut much more deeply into family incomes in certain cities than in others.
Still, the facts the study sets forth are persuasive. During the Age of Obama, and, to be fair, in the age of George W. Bush, as well, Americans have grown poorer by almost any measuring stick. Now we are facing an election, and the candidates are being forced to address this tangible problem. Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee, lashes out like a wounded lion at the supposed perpetrators of this injustice, some real, and some imagined. Meanwhile, the two Democrats still standing are squabbling about who is the rightful heir to the Obama legacy. Hillary Clinton wraps herself in her officially approved Obama superhero cape, and promises to build on his legacy. Does this mean she will hasten the destruction of the private insurance industry, along with the health care system, put the coal companies out of business, and preside over a dramatic expansion of the welfare rolls, along with a corresponding decline in the numbers of people employed? Well, maybe we better not ask those questions. Sen. Bernie Sanders, for his part, claims that Hillary is a fake and a charlatan. This is clear to anyone who has listened to a word this woman has said for the last 20 years. Sanders is correct in challenging Hillary’s sincerity, but is promising to turn up the heat, and give us more of the socialism-lite policies that got us into this mess in the first place.
The question that should be asked is really quite simple: Who would want to go into a general election campaign saddled with Obama’s real legacy? Would a candidate really relish the prospect of defending the record of a president who is leaving the nation poorer than it was when he started? When confronted with the true Obama record, rather than the bogus fairytales of politically correct mythmakers, one would think that Clinton and Sanders would have taken to their heels long ago. The fact that the pair are bickering over who is the true heir to the Obama record is proof positive that, at least in our politics, modern America has stepped through the looking glass.